Hi there. I am Gennady (Gena) Elfimov. My dive-buddy wife and I are recreational divers since 2011. In March 2016, we went on Duxy’s UW Photography Workshop for the first time, which was in the North Red Sea on MV Whirlwind This review is about the trip we had.
I am a beginner UW photographer. Before this trip I only used point-and-shoot Canon D10 and D20 cameras in fully automatic mode. Having shot a few thousands of “fish ID” pictures, I was considering an upgrade to a new kit. Duxy was happy to help, first via detailed emails answering my basic questions, then by pointing me towards specialists to talk to, and then through a lengthy follow up telephone call. In the end.
My Photo Kit
I decided to get Olympus E-PL7 mirrorless camera with PT-EP12 housing, single Sea & Sea YS-D2 Strobe, Inon UWL-H100 Wide-angle and AOI ULC-06 +12 Close-Up Lenses. The runner-up option that we intensely discussed was Canon G7X. Out of all the new equipment I had just bought, I only had some idea how to use wide-angle lens (get close, point and shoot), so it was only logical to join Duxy’s photo trip.
Committing to the new (and not so cheap) kit was a serious decision.
It is worth a special mention that I also had remarkable help and advice from Jussi and John, two professional UW photographers of Ocean Leisure Cameras in London
These guys (recommended by Duxy) spent over four hours consulting me on three different occasions when I visited the store. No doubt, they saved me quite a bit of money by helping make choices suitable for my level and intentions.
You’re amongst friends
On the first night as I walked into the Whirlwind saloon, I saw a dozen of nerdy looking guests busy assembling, checking and polishing their systems, some as massive as bazookas. I said to myself “What the heck are you doing here?” With all good intentions, I still arrived to the boat having not read any camera, housing or strobe manuals. Duxy assembled my kit for me, from placing camera into housing to connecting the arms system, strobe and the fibre optic cable. I felt very stupid. He then went through controls and settings on the camera and the strobe, showing how to use them.
Learning to drive
Because I had never used a manual regime before, I was hoping for a kind of an easy start, like semi-automatic, something-priority. No, Duxy said, “Fully manual. It’s easy!” Yeah, right! I was all over the place from underexposed to overexposed and back, strobe power either too much or not enough. Backscatter was so-o-o irritating! Attempts to adjust the strobe position were making things worse. When I expressed my frustration after the first day of shooting, Duxy surprised me by saying that he himself struggled for a few trips (!) when he switched to an Olympus camera. “Try changing one parameter at a time”, he said. This did help but there was still a lot of other things to grasp. “It is similar to learning how to drive. Initially you are fully preoccupied thinking about pure technical aspects like clutch and gear, and you have no capacity to navigate or to enjoy the ride”. I agree with that.
Above and below
To me the upgrade was like swapping an automatic family car for a high performance circuit racer. I needed some coaching and this trip provided exactly that. Duxy instructs on the boat as well as underwater before, during and after diving. This includes talks and presentations, one-to-one sessions, site-specific tips before every dive, showing the best scenes and angles for photos, and interesting marine life (like five Stonefish within two-meter radius), de-brief with review of pictures taken and more. In my case, one-to-ones also included walkthrough importing photos, arranging and working with collections, export and metadata settings. I don’t know how he manages to keep the right balance between all participating divers, but he certainly does! We saw him working with every person who had a camera.
Underwater, Duxy observes who is doing what and keeps coaching. A few times he checked my camera settings and showed the best angle to take a shot. There were many other tips and tricks, like how to shoot jellyfish, how to get a split-shot and to “shoot from the hip”. Once we went in near the Barge to get that Sunset Split! What an effort and, in my case, a waste of time! I spent 17 minutes thrashing on the surface, took over 30 shots – not a single one is presentable! “I didn’t say this would be easy!” Duxy chuckled.
In addition, Duxy offered to help with buoyancy control tips, body positioning for taking pictures, practising “helicopter turns”, and even entering the water. Given the differences in diving and photo experience, I think that was very appropriate.
The atmosphere on board was excellent. Everyone was happy to share the knowledge and techniques. “You need to be thinking in 3D, try to illuminate as little water before your subject as possible”; “These batteries are the best. Let me show you a perfect charger for them!” and so on. We were a bunch of happy people sharing the same passion.
Out of many “discoveries” I made during the trip, the two that really stand out are the importance of shooting RAW and the power of Lightroom. I can hear you saying “No s**t, Sherlock!” 🙂 The below example is quite illustrative. I rejected the picture initially, but after watching Duxy’s Blogs about Lightroom Brushes please click here. I decided to have a go at it. I know the framing and composition are wrong, but the difference “before and after” is quite visible. Using “Auto Mask” was the key tool there.
Flying by the seat of your pants
By the way, there is a wealth of valuable information on Duxy’s Scuba Travel blogs https://www.scubatravel.com/blog
I read somewhere that it is a good idea to attend a specialised UW photo trip before you buy your own kit. I disagree. I would have missed out on all important hands-on training. It would be similar to attending flying lessons only to listen to an instructor talking without ever getting airborne yourself!
We had two excellent dive guides and great guys, Reda and Mousa, who were available to help and to guide any dive if we wanted. Reda loves guiding night dives in poor visibility when the water is cold and the current is strong – just ask him ;-)). As always in Egypt, the Whirlwind crew were helpful, friendly and ready to deal with whatever request we had. The Open Deck policy meant they had to be on standby pretty much all day.
In conclusion, joining Duxy’s trip was exactly what I needed at the time of (intended) transition to the next level in underwater photography. I received a superb professional training on the appropriate level and at the right time. If you love taking photos underwater and you are considering your next steps, then attending a specialised UW photography trip is definitely something I would highly recommend. To me the learning was occasionally frustrating, but it was well worth it. This is a long and challenging but, I am sure, a very rewarding path.
We will certainly go on one of Duxy’s trips again and we are already looking forward to it!
Here are some other pictures I took.
My wife Elena is not a photographer, but she loved Duxy’s Photography Workshop too. Here are a few words from her.
Final word from wife Elena
“I agreed to go on this trip because the itinerary looked great with all famous and familiar dive sites. I was also curious about the Open Deck policy, thinking it will be more relaxed with plenty of time for me to do my own things, look around (whilst my zealous husband is practising new skills), and find interesting marine life. This, indeed, was the case! The diving was incredible. On the check-dive a friendly dolphin turned up and stayed with us for about 10 minutes, approaching us one by one at arm’s length, smiling and squeaking. That was a good start!
The dive sites in the itinerary were fantastic and included Tiran, Ras Mohammed, Thistlegorm, Kingston, Abu Nuhas, Gubal and more. The Open Deck policy worked perfect for us because, apart from freedom and photo opportunities, it also improved our confidence as scuba divers. One of the highlights was diving Kingston for the first time ever. This is an incredible site! It is full of light and full of diverse marine life. The old shipwreck structure is covered with hard and soft coral. Beautiful!
Duxy is amazing. He holds the trip together, talks to everybody, he is the heart of the company. I am not into photography and I don’t intend to use Lightroom or any other photo-editing software, yet I sat and listened to each and every talk he gave. The way Duxy presents is very entertaining, passionate, animated and funny. He is a very interesting person to talk to. I had to drag Gena away from him when the conversation was stretching past midnight.
Photographers or not, we got on with each other really well. There were five couples, which was great. The atmosphere was really friendly and relaxed.
We will go diving with Duxy again. Definitely.”
If you’d like to see what Cat Briggs and Stuart Gibson thought of this trip please go to the main blog heading please click here, where you can click through and read their impressions.